Educating Turkey’s students for their future, not our past

Educating Turkey’s students for their future, not our past

How should countries engage their citizens to understand and shape the changing world? In these times, we can no longer teach people for a lifetime. In these times, education needs to provide people with a reliable compass and the navigational tools to find their own way through an increasingly complex and volatile world.

As future jobs will pair computer intelligence with human knowledge, skills, character qualities, and values, it will be our capacity for innovation, our awareness, our ethical judgment, and our sense of responsibility that will equip us to harness machines to shape the world for the better.

Not surprisingly then, schools increasingly recognize the need for fostering ethics, character, and citizenship, and aim to develop a range of social and emotional skills, such as empathy, compassion, mindfulness, purposefulness, responsibility, collaboration, and self-regulation.

The challenge is that developing these qualities requires a very different approach to learning and teaching, as well as a different caliber of teachers. When teacher quality is low, governments tend to tell their teachers exactly what to do and exactly how they want it done. Today the challenge is to make teaching a profession of advanced knowledge workers who own their profession and who work with a high level of professional autonomy and within a collaborative culture.

In the past teachers and content were divided by subjects and students separated by expectations of their future career prospects. The future needs to be integrated, with an emphasis placed on the integration of subjects and the integration of students. It also needs to be connected – so that learning is closely related to real-world contexts and contemporary issues and open to the rich resources in the community.

In the past, instruction was subject-based, instruction in the future needs to be more project-based, building experiences that help students think across the boundaries of subject-matter disciplines. While the past was hierarchical, the future is collaborative, recognizing both teachers and students as resources and co-creators.

In the past, different students were taught in similar ways. Now school systems need to embrace diversity with differentiated approaches to learning.

The goals of the past were standardization and compliance. The future is about building instruction from students’ passions and capacities, helping students to personalize their learning and assessment in ways that foster engagement and talents. School systems need to better recognize that individuals learn differently, and they learn at varying paces at different stages of their lives.

This is a challenge for Turkey, where student performance on tasks relating to the reproduction of subject-matter content is quite good, but where The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reveals great weaknesses among Turkish students in their capacity to extrapolate from what they know and apply this knowledge creatively in novel situations.

For example, memorization strategies are still prevalent among Turkish students in PISA, but these are predictive only for performance of tasks with relatively limited complexity, precisely those tasks which are increasingly at risk of automation and digitalization. This is a decisive disadvantage in the modern world which no longer rewards students solely for what they know – Google knows everything – but for what they can do with what they know. It will require changes in the instructional environment where students have more control and ownership over the time, place, path and pace of learning.

These challenges are daunting for many countries, but the overall progress which Turkey has achieved over the last decade in raising access and improving quality suggests that the country is ready to take the next step towards building a 21st century education system that ensures that the next generation is learning for their future, not for our past.

* Andreas Schleicher is the Director for Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) based in Berlin, Germany.